This week I learned a very valuable lesson, namely that one should not let too much moss grow under a recipe whipped up on the fly, particularly if one has the attention span of a fly. (It's easy to forget how in the heck you made a dish come together if you don't write it down, it turns out.)
Last week, I got the rather distressing news that the county would like to take my house—or, if they can't have it, they'd like to tax me out of it. I am not in the habit of going down without a fight (and by "fight," I mean "temper tantrum"), so I railed against the man until he said thank you very much, I appreciate your position, hand over your paycheck, por favor. To which I was all, "Oh. Umkay."
Power to the people!
All of which is to say that in the intervening period between March's paychecks No. 1 and No. 2 (whom I love dearly and do not want to see go, amen), I was on something of a budget. And when I say "budget," I mean "less than $19.80 a day." Not a terrible per diem, to be sure, unless you're someone who likes to cook something new every night. Then it's just limiting and cranky-making.
Or is it?! I decided that this arbitrary $19.80 could make for a fun and motivating (albeit still unwelcome) project. I wanted fresh spinach in this dish, but for some unfathomable reason, my grocer was fresh out. So I had to opt for frozen—while I would have preferred the fresh, I'll admit the frozen chopped version was all but free, and I think the flavor difference was inconsequential. Taste the sauce along the way and adjust the amount of mustard to your liking—I wanted this to be really deeply tangy and mustardy, but it's all a matter of taste. (A good-quality mustard is key, though. I used Grey Poupon, which I already had in the larder.) The same is true of the chicken broth; you can add more or less depending upon how thick you prefer your cream sauces. Some of these ingredients I had on hand on the Woodside, but when all was said and done I managed to cobble this together for less than $12.80.*
*Sometimes, when a girl has been roundly slapped by the local tax commissioner, a girl needs a $7 bottle of wine.
Creamy Chicken, Spinach, and Tomato Penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 1½ pounds chicken cutlets, cut into strips
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups half & half or heavy cream
¼ cup spicy brown mustard
8 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Hot sauce (optional)
16 ounces penne pasta
1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and wrung out well in a clean dish towel
1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat; add chicken, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until golden brown and cooked through. Remove chicken to a plate, and set aside.
2. Add garlic to pan, and sauté about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add butter; when melted, sprinkle over flour, and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.
2. Add cream to pan, whisking constantly until sauce bubbles and thickens. Reduce heat to low, and stir in mustard, Parmigiano cheese, and hot sauce, if desired.
3. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, stir sauce occasionally, adding chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, until sauce reaches desired consistency.
4. Stir tomatoes, spinach, and reserved chicken into sauce until heated through; toss with cooked pasta. Top with additional grated Parmigiano, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Cheesy Garlic Bread
1 medium baguette, sliced in half lengthwise
Sliced provolone cheese
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Top baguette halves with mayonnaise, garlic powder, and cheeses. Broil until cheese is melted and browned. Makes 4 to 6 servings.